The ban on fax machines in the NHS
Readers may have become aware that in the run-up to Christmas the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock placed a ban on NHS bodies placing orders for new fax machines and has ordered the phasing out of fax machines in the NHS by April 2020.
The ban on buying new fax machines takes place almost immediately, from January 2019.
A move to force modernisation?
However, if followed, it will place the NHS in a position where it will become even more reliant upon computers and an information technology that it has demonstrated it does not have the capability to manage and control properly.
Mr Hancock, in announcing the programme, said:
“Because I love the NHS, I want to bring it into the 21st century and use the very best technology available. We’ve got to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of the archaic fax machines still used across the NHS when everywhere else got rid of them years ago.”
Readers will perhaps recall that only a short while ago, the so-called cyber attack on NHS IT systems which in May 2017 saw multiple NHS systems fall prey to ransomware known as ‘WanaCry’ and ‘Wana Decrypter’. The software corruption required payment of a relatively modest sum, payable in Bitcoin, to the controller of WanaCry, and in default of which the computer files were encrypted in such a way that they became inaccessible. In effect, many of the NHS computers ‘seized up’ and became useless with the data contained within put beyond reach.
It was against this background that the old technology of NHS fax machines became a very valuable means of communication with other NHS bodies.
Even towards the end of last year (2018) the NHS was suffering computer ‘crashes’ – something many of us encounter from time to time – in September last, computers crashed at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust when four hospitals were unable to access patient records. As I say, the computer ‘crash’ is something many of us encounter; however, for the NHS, not being able to access a patient’s records can be critically important – in the instant case, it was reported that the records of “more than 600 patients” were adversely affected. It was also reported that “20 non-urgent operations” were cancelled as a result. For each of those 20 patients they will have had double the levels of anxiety as well as having to suffer pain for longer than ought to have been the case.
The use of faxes will not have overcome the problems encountered in Manchester; however, for NHS bodies unable to deliver test results to GPs, and consultants access to a fax machine will help to overcome the problems of inaccessible computers, and enable the various results to be communicated in a timely way.
Overall, I am a supporter of availability and use of fax machines.
It makes sense to me to have a back-up available; where the cost of having a back-up is low it seems to me to be foolhardy not to maintain such a system. Social care businesses are run mostly by the private sector, I do not yet see the wholesale abandonment of fax machines there.
I hope that Mr Hancock doesn’t live to regret his decision. There again, I don’t suppose that he will still be leading the Department when the time comes to explain why NHS communication has been again paralysed!
Keith M Lewin
Brunswicks Law Limited
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